Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series about peacemaking in America

The Constitution wasn’t written overnight. Throughout the course of three months of spirited discussion in Philadelphia in 1787, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists contested philosophies of governance. And even after the Constitution was ratified, several important constitutional amendments ensured additional freedom and rights. This process required compromise and negotiations. 

Part of the work of peacemaking involves coming together to create what President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called “inspired solutions.” To do so in the public square, we must weigh political gains and losses in order to achieve a greater good.  

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In this process, there will always be some deeply held moral and political convictions where compromising on policy may not align with conscience. In those instances, it may be important to shift toward other solutions where compromise feels right.

But seeking inspired solutions through compromise typically means none of the involved parties have every hope or demand met; instead, they assess pragmatically what is most important to their respective causes. 

Incentives matter

Contrary to prevailing opinion today, Latter-day Saints are regularly encouraged to remember that neither political party has a monopoly on truth. That awareness uniquely positions this community of faith to be seeking understanding and bridging opportunities. The tensions and conflicts inherent in these efforts should be appreciated as a feature of our American system, rather than a bug. 

As Edmund Burke once said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”

Instead of rewarding politicians who reach political standstills because they won’t reach across the aisle, the American public could instead use their votes to make partisanship a costly venture, and practical pluralism a rewarding one. 

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The importance of dignity

Tami Pyfer is the director of UNITE, the national organization behind The Dignity Index, an eight-point scale to assess language for its relative level of contempt or dignity, along with its associated power to unite or divide. 

Pyfer argues that granting dignity to those who disagree with us can lead to inspired solutions we may not otherwise have imagined. During the Syrian refugee crisis, when several Republican governors refused to take in Syrian refugees, she noted that Utah’s former governor, Gary Herbert, was the only Republican to say “we welcome them with open arms.”

She added, “We are a state built upon religious refugees seeking refuge, and he said ‘we will take more.’” 

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ, has spoken about how sometimes people may have to disagree with their own political party and do something different. Herbert’s motto was “I’m conservative in principle, I’m moderate in tone, but I’m inclusive in process,” and from the former governor, Pyfer learned how to be considerate to people with whom she strongly disagreed. 

In another example, Pyfer highlighted the bipartisan ad from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and his opponent, Chris Peterson, during the last election. “Although we sit on different sides of the aisle, we are both committed to American civility and a peaceful transition of power,” Cox said in the ad. Later, researchers at Stanford University found that this single video was able to measurably reduce partisan animosity among viewers. 

Even though Cox and Peterson disagreed on many policies, they agreed on the fundamental importance of a peaceful transition of power and the value of freedom. Their simple act of goodwill showcased common ground itself as an inspired solution to the lack of civility. 

You don’t need to be a politician to find common ground with political opponents. When navigating political discussions with our neighbors, we can find which common values we share even when we disagree strongly. 

Cox has continued his efforts to reach across the aisle and encourage civility in political discourse. He recently launched the Disagree Better initiative, which he is promoting during his stint as chairman of the National Governors Association. The initiative will encourage governors to model a vision for America by finding bipartisan consensus on political issues like immigration.

“You never convince anyone by attacking them. You actually convince them by trying to bring them along,” he told the Deseret News.

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Listening for the good

Keith Allred, the executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the president of CommonSense American, highlighted the same foundational skill of listening as crucial for problem-solving to find inspired solutions.  

“Whether 10% of what they’re saying has merit or 90% does,” Allred said, “it really is our responsibility to be listening to others’ points of view” for whatever goodness or truth we can find. None of this requires wholly agreeing with someone’s perspective, or abandoning our convictions, he said. 

Allred highlighted U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, Joe Manchin and Mitt Romney as good models of this in their willingness to reach across the aisle and consider solutions based on compromise. Allred’s work at CommonSense American “is a grassroots version” of these skilled leaders. Composed of 53,000 Americans across party lines who work together on bipartisan solutions, this organization suggests that Americans may not be as divided as they think.

There’s usually common ground underfoot; we only need to look for it and build on it.